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North Uist, Carinish, Teampull Na Trionaid

Burial Ground (Period Unassigned), Church(S) (13th Century)

Site Name North Uist, Carinish, Teampull Na Trionaid

Classification Burial Ground (Period Unassigned), Church(S) (13th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Teampull Clann A Phiocair; Temple Of The Trinity; Teampull Na Trianaide; Chapel Of The Macvicars

Canmore ID 10265

Site Number NF86SW 24

NGR NF 81625 60285

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Western Isles
  • Parish North Uist
  • Former Region Western Isles Islands Area
  • Former District Western Isles
  • Former County Inverness-shire

Recording Your Heritage Online

Teampall na Trionaid, uncertain early history but possibly built c.12 00 (on an earlier site) The plundered ruin of an important pre- Reformation church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, beautifully sited on an eminence overlooking the Oitir Mhor. Attributed by The Book of Clan Ranald to the Iona prioress, Beathag, daughter of Somerled, it was probably enlarged in the late 14 th century when Amy MacRuari, divorcee of John, Lord of the Isles, developed it into an important seat of learning. The square-cornered north wall is remarkably well preserved, despite the loss of carved stones and freestone dressings. Its rubble masonry courses are interspersed every foot or so by a distinctive thin layer of pinnings, with putlock holes evident in the western section. The Teampall was still used for public worship in 1728.

Teampall Clann a' Phiocair, possibly 16th century. Of uncertain original use, but possibly a house, connected to the church by a vaulted passage. Post-Reformation use as a burial place for the notable MacVicar family of scholars explains its name. Semi-circular walled burial enclosure, probably 18th century.

Taken from "Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Mary Miers, 2008. Published by the Rutland Press

Archaeology Notes

NF86SW 24 8162 6028

(NF 8162 6028) Teampull na Trionaid (NR) (Ruins of),

Teampull Clann a' Phiocair (NR) (Ruins of)

OS 6" map, Inverness-shire, 2nd ed., (1904)

It seems certain that neither of the twin churches of the Trinity and of the Clan MacVicar, at Carinish, was a parish church.

'It would appear that the former was built from the wood of Columban times into primitive stone; again from Celtic to Gothic style (perhaps by Amie MacRuari c.1350-90) and finally reconstructed during the 16th century into its latter form'. Teampull Clann a'Phiocair, later in origin, probably remained as first erected with little change.

The two chapels are about 5ft apart, and are connected by a passage which is bonded to neither church.

When Beveridge wrote, a substantial amount of the walls still remained, although dilapidated, and both buildings contained burials. To the south was a graveyard still in use.

E Beveridge 1911; F W L Thomas 1890; Visited by OS (D S) 22 July 1956.

Generally as previously described and planned. The walls of Teampull na Trionaid are 1.0m thick and stand to a height of c. 6.0m except at the SE angle where the east wall is reduced to c. 2.5m and the south wall to c. 0.7m. A modern wall has been built on to the south wall at the west end.

The walls of Teampull Clann a' Phiocair are 0.8m thick. The south, east and west walls are 1.4m, 5.0m, and 3.0m high respectively: the north wall has been recently rebuilt to a height of 1.0m.

The passage connecting the two buildings is now blocked with stone and barely visible.

The burials within the buildings and in the graveyard are mainly modern. Several old head-stones were seen but no dates were discernible.

Visited by OS (WDJ), 1 June 1965.

NF 8162 6028 A desk-based survey and non-invasive site assessment was made, in association with Simpson & Brown Architects, of the ruined church, burial enclosures and extensive surrounding remains and earthworks.

Sponsor: Southern Isles Amenity Trust.

T Addyman 2000.

Scheduled as Teampull na Trionaid (Church of the Holy Trinity) and Teampull Clann a'Phiocair (Chapel of the MacVicars).

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 9 March 2005.


Field Visit (19 July 1924)

Detailed description, plan and photographs.

Published RCAHMS 1928, 47-9

Publication Account (1985)

Teampull na Trionaid is one of the largest pre-Reformation churches in the Western Isles. It is reputed to have been built by Amie MacRurie, first wife of John, Lord of the Isles, and would thus date from the 14th century, though it may on architectural grounds belong to the preceding century. Measuring about 18.5m by 6.5m, the church is now ruinousi most of the south and east walls have fallen, but the north and west walls still stand to a considerable height and give some impression of the size of the building. It was described in the 19th century as having had freestone mouldings around both doors and windows, and carved figures set in the walls, but these had been removed, and the stone used for other purposes. At the west end the walls have a number of square holes in them, possibly used for scaffolding during building, or perhaps to support a gallery.

This building is connected with a smaller one to the north by a barrel-vaulted passage, which appears to be almost complete, though it is blocked with rubble, which may have contributed to its preservation. The smaller building, measuring about 8.5m by 4m and known as Teampull Clann a' Bhiocair or MacVicar's chapel, is in better condition, having both gables and the south wall nearly complete. Each wall has a window, neatly built of local stone, and there are aumbries in both end walls.

Teampull na Trionaid is said to have been used as a refuge in 1601 by MacDonalds of North Dist who gathered their stock there for protection against a raiding party ofMacLeods of Skye. The MacLeods were routed at the battle of Carinish not far from the church.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Argyll and the Western Isles’, (1985).

Excavation (2012)

NF 81625 60285 Teampull na Trionaid (Trinity Church) is a medieval monastery and college founded and built in the 14th century and reconstructed in the 16th century. The chapel is reputed to have been enlarged in the late 14th century and remained in use until the early 18th century. The burial ground is enclosed by a curvilinear 18th-century wall. Repairs to the building were carried out in the 19th and 20th centuries.

A topographical and standing building survey, a watching brief during the removal of fallen masonry, and the excavation of three trial trenches, were carried out June – July 2011 in association with a wider programme of conservation work.

A Level 3 standing building survey established that the structural remains consist of two chapels. A large rectangular structure aligned E–W, with a smaller rectangular chapel on its N side. The two chapels are c1.5m apart and connected by a barrel-vaulted passage which is bonded to both buildings. On the S side of the main chapel there is an adjoining structure, known locally as the enclosure, which was constructed in the 18th century. The buildings were laser scanned and elevation drawings and a photographic record produced.

The topographic survey established that the church is located on the 11m OD contour and ground levels are higher inside the church and chapel, reflecting the impact of over 700 years of interments. All of the graves were aligned N–S. Scaled drawings were produced of the complex in relation to the graveyard boundary wall and 5m beyond the wall. An examination of late 19th-century photographs indicates that the site has deteriorated considerably due to stone robbing and continued erosion by the elements, despite stabilisation work carried out in 1994–5.

The watching brief led to the recovery of 42 pieces of moulded stone. A human skull was also recovered and retained for future reburial. Two of the trial trenches (Trenches 1 and 3) excavated next to the main church building identified good quality wall foundations suitable for the intended stabilisation works. Trench 2 excavated next to the S wall of the enclosure on the S side of the main church identified poor quality foundation walls, which had sunk into soft ground, causing the outward collapse of the wall. The excavation of Trench 2 was terminated on the discovery of articulated human skeletons.

The finds recovered were mainly of 19th-century date or a mix of animal and human bone. Apart from 23 fragments, all human remains were either left in situ or reburied in Trench 2. A small group of sherds of probable Middle Iron Age pottery were also recovered. The location of the site on a small natural knoll with good views over the surrounding landscape would have represented an ideal site for early settlement. It is considered probable that the remains of Iron Age settlement are preserved somewhere in the immediate vicinity, although they are very likely to have been significantly disturbed by the later activity.

Archive: CNES SMR and RCAHMS

Funder: Teampull na Trionaid Conservation Trust

Magnus Kirby, CFA Archaeology Ltd



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